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What You Talkin’ ’Bout, Jerry?

A forum with Albany Mayor Jennings creates more questions than answers in the Lark Street renovation debate
Photo by Joe Putrock

Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings called out his troops last week to help him explain, for the third time in a month, why he wants to move a $6.5 million transportation grant from Lark Street to New Scotland Avenue.

Joe Putrock

The latest round in what has become Albany’s most talked-about paving job came Feb. 18 at a forum hosted by the city and the Lark Street Business Improvement District. Jennings, flanked by Deputy Mayor Phil Calderone and a half-dozen aides, sounded braced for trouble as he faced 200 residents and merchants, most of them from Center Square.

“What I’d like to see tonight is an intelligent exchange about what we’re going to present—that’s all I’m asking you,” the mayor said.

Jennings has charged the Lark Street BID with assessing public reaction to the proposed move. The BID is canvassing its members, board president Chris Burke said, and has also asked neighborhood associations to gauge reaction to a scaled-back project for Lark that would use $2 million of city money instead of the grant, which would be issued through the Capital District Transportation Committee.

The Capital District Transportation Committee’s policy board is expected to vote March 21 on Jenning’s proposal to move the $6.5 million to New Scotland.

Jennings said he’ll go whichever way public sentiment directs: keep the $6.5 million on Lark, dig to the sewer lines and widen the street; or, let the grant go to New Scotland and do quicker surface improvements on Lark.

The forum began with the city’s consulting firm, Clough, Harbour & Associates, presenting a slide show on the fundamentals of Civil Engineering 101 as they apply to Lark Street.

It ended with a line of people still waiting to speak or ask questions about the plan, and realizing their time was running short. Elda Abate, owner of Elda’s restaurant on the corner of State and Lark streets, was one of the last at the microphone.

Abate wants to keep the $6.5 million on Lark, and she bristled when she caught the mayor smiling during her impassioned remarks. Jennings reassured her that he was taking her seriously, but Abate was miffed.

“You should give us the money—the $6.5 million,” she said. “Without your project and your help, you know we’re going to die. Why should we make a choice? The good people—the merchants—they just elected you to a third term.”

Jennings, however, remained firm: Lark Street can’t be widened without closing it for a year, he said, and closing it could be its death knell.

When Jennings first announced this realization last month, it was three to five years (depending on who’s counting) into a planning process that involved the BID, merchants, residents, neighborhood association leaders and city agencies.

It rapidly became clear that Center Square residents and merchants were not of one mind on the mayor’s proposal. Several merchants—pointing out that Lark already has too many empty storefronts—have pleaded with Jennings to do the Lark Street project as quickly as possible.

Critics say Jennings sent a confusing message, making them question whether it really would take six or seven years and a complete shutdown to widen the street. During the forum, for example, Jennings said that New Scotland Avenue needs the grant because previous administrations neglected city infrastructure; later in the evening, he said that Lark Street’s underground pipes are in fine shape.

Tom McPheeters and Ellen Becker, both active in the Mansion Neighborhood Association, said the situation evoked memories of the Lincoln Park Pool debate, when the city wanted to redesign the pool in the face of stiff opposition from residents. They attended the forum as a show of support for the Center Square Association.

“There’s no way for this group to challenge the assertion that the street would be closed for a whole year if they do a deep dig,” McPheeters said.

“I think the speed with which this was done doesn’t leave people a lot of time to evaluate their options and offer input,” Becker said. “It seems to be like a breakdown here in the teamwork. It’s so fast.”

—Darryl McGrath

Teri Currie

F.Y.I.

I Think That I Shall Never See a Peace Symbol Lovely As a Tree

Each fall, the Kaki tree blossoms with ripe, orange fruits. On most trees, these orange signs of life wouldn’t stand out, but on the Kaki tree their appearance could be considered something of a miracle.

A survivor of the 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in Japan, the Kaki

Tree has become a living tribute to the 210,000 victims of the atom bomb. For more than 50 years, the tree has been an international symbol of peace and has been displayed throughout Japan.

On Feb. 27, the W. Haywood Burns Environmental Education Center in Albany was the second organization in the
United States to receive the Bombed Kaki Tree Jr. The tree, which will be displayed at Artist’s all-Faith Center in Arbor Hill, was grown from the seedlings of the Kaki tree bombed in Nagasaki, Japan.

After it became sick in 1994, Masayuki Ebinuma, a Japanese tree doctor, saved the historic tree, which is actually a persimmon plant, and began to grow a second generation of Kaki trees. To ensure that the Kaki tree’s legacy lives on, the Japanese organization Revive Time has planted the Kaki tree’s seeds as part of a program to foster understanding about war and the atom bomb. With the help of Japanese artists and educators, Revive Time has worked with children from around the world, teaching about the Kaki Tree, the Second World War and the 1945 bombings of Japan.

—Michael Greenhaus

Remembering former Albany Mayor Thomas Whalen III
Photographs by Martin Benjamin

From top: Former Albany Mayor Thomas Whalen III and former Gov. Mario Cuomo attend the funeral of Erastus Corning 2nd in 1983; Whalen hosting the Albany Tricentennial Gala in 1986; and Whalen attending the opening of the movie Ironweed in 1987.

Earth Received an Honored Guest

Photo by Joe Putrock

On Monday evening, former Albany Mayor Thomas Whalen III died in a car crash on his way home from a party for his wife’s 64th birthday. Whalen became Albany’s mayor in 1983, after the death of Erastus Corning 2nd, who held the post for 42 years. Whalen has been credited with helping break city government of some bad habits during his tenure as mayor. He helped get the city out of significant debt, reduced the influence of machine politics on City Hall and was an important patron and supporter of city arts organizations. Whalen’s 10-year service as mayor ended in 1993, when he resigned he decided not to run for a third term in office. He was succeeded by current Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings—then considered a “maverick” in Albany politics, as unlikely as it may sound—who took office in 1994. Whalen is pictured here at WAMC’s new Performing Arts Center in Albany.


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